David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (12 Mar ’11)

If you’re new to David Coppedge’s lawsuit against Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and & Caltech, for factual background see David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech — He’s Fired! Our last post about this case was David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (18 Feb ’11). There we reported that Coppedge had requested leave to file an amended complaint to include a wrongful termination claim, and he also requested a continuance of the trial. Both requests, presumably unopposed, were granted on 14 February. The trial is now scheduled to start on 19 October of this year.

In that same post we told you about an article that was favorable to Coppedge because it was based on his version of the facts. From that article we concluded that over a period of ten years he had committed at least 200 separate acts of creationist proselytizing on the job.

The long-awaited amended complaint for wrongful firing been filed now. We read Coppedge Lawsuit Against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab Amended to Allege Wrongful Termination at the blog of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

The Discoveroids’ blog entry doesn’t say anything interesting, but they do give a link to Coppedge’s Second Amended Complaint, a 40-page pdf file. In multiple counts that invoke various statutes he alleges religious discrimination, retaliation, harassment, wrongful demotion, and wrongful termination. It’s far too long to summarize, so we’ll give you some choice excerpts, with bold font added by us.

In the beginning, where the parties are identified and the underlying facts are set forth, it says:

9. Plaintiff, an information technology (“IT”) specialist, was charged with violating his employer’s anti-harassment and ethics policies. The allegations of harassment against Plaintiff included, without limitation, charges that he had (1) promoted his religious views by discussing with co-workers a scientific theory of life’s origins known as Intelligent Design (“ID”); (2) promoted his religious views by requesting that the annual “Holiday Party” be re-named the “Christmas Party”; and (3) promoted his religious and/or political views by discussing Proposition 8, a November 2009 ballot initiative approved by voters amending the California Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman as the only constitutionally authorized form of marriage in the state.

Aha! His behavior wasn’t limited to hawking his creationism. We didn’t know that. Let’s read on:

10. During a dressing-down by his Project Management supervisor, Plaintiff was told that his discussions with co-workers concerning ID and his distribution of documentary DVDs entitled “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” and “The Privileged Planet” amounted to “pushing religion” and were “unwelcome” and “disruptive.” Although no one had previously said these things to him, his supervisors informed him that “a lot of people had been overly nice to you just to move on when you presented the ideas.”

Poor Coppedge. Although we estimate that he had attempted to promote creationism to JPL employees at least 200 times, he never had the first clue that his behavior was unwelcome. We continue:

11. Plaintiff was ordered not to discuss ID, religion or politics under threat of termination, and though he complied with the unfair order he was nevertheless stripped of his team leadership position and reassigned to a job position with less responsibility and fewer privileges, embarrassing, degrading and humiliating him. Until his wrongful termination in retaliation for the filing of this lawsuit and based on his expression of religious, political and ID-related issues, he remained constrained in his ability to express his views on religion, politics and ID and was kept a prisoner of JPL‟s discriminatory policies and actions. Plaintiff was stigmatized in such a way that career advancement opportunities had been foreclosed to him, and he endured each working day under a cloud of suspicion and a threat of termination lest he say anything by which someone might take offense.

This is soooooo good! As the saying goes, your Curmudgeon gets a thrill up his leg reading this stuff.

After some irrelevant blather about Coppedge’s “scientific” interest in intelligent design, the complaint discusses his insistence that the holiday party be re-named the Christmas party. After that the complaint discusses his “conversations” with JPL employees about Proposition 8 — a proposal to ban gay marriage in California. Coppedge supported Prop 8 on religious grounds. He got into some presumably heated discussions with colleagues (Chin, Weisenfelder, Vetter and Edgington), who “all disagreed with Proposition 8 and voted against it.” They complained about him. At this point we’re in the middle of paragraph 33, which says:

Vetter, Edgington and Chin question religion and do not practice it. Although they once practiced the Christian faith, neither Vetter, Edgington nor Chin proclaim Jesus Christ as their savior and have abandoned their Christian faith. Weisenfelder obtained a “mail-order” ordination in an organization entitled the “Metaphysical Interfaith Church,” and believes that religion should never be discussed in the workplace under any circumstances. With one exception, they are all members of the Democratic Party.

Do we need to go on? No, we don’t. You get the general idea. If you like, go ahead and read it all. It’s an interesting way to spend 20 minutes or so. Our leg is still tingling. Go and do thou likewise.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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9 responses to “David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (12 Mar ’11)

  1. Reading the complaint is like reading a case study of an obsessive personality inflicted with a severe persecution complex. The behavior is also, probably, the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Undoubtedly it came to the point where people quit being polite and a few started complaining, and management had to do something.

    One matter that seems unbelievable, is that he evidently knew the religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) of the named defendants, and he proselytized to them anyway. Who was harassing who? If I were his boss, I might not have been nearly as patient as JPL was.

    I don’t think he has a chance.

  2. Ed says: “I don’t think he has a chance.”

    It’s really difficult to believe that thing was drafted by a lawyer. Think of the reaction at the firm that represents JPL. I imagine that copies are flying around, with underlining in red felt-tip pen, and marginal notes like “WTF?” and “BWAHAHAHA!”

    Except for Coppedge himself, who is apparently being used as a pawn, I don’t think there’s any expectation that his team will win this case. That complaint reads like it was drafted as a martyrdom document. It’ll be quoted endlessly by creationist outfits to “prove” that everyone discriminates against them.

  3. Coppedges’s main complaint is that his feeling were hurt. He suffered no loss in pay nor no loss in grade, according to his own complaint.

    The title of “Team Lead” was ceremonial, not an actual pay grade.

    I’m astounded that Coppedge’s own complaint documents how he harassed his co-workers. WTF? He was told to STFU and failed to do so. HR was also astounded that this had gone on for so long.

    I suspect that Coppers was a Royal Pain in the Ass and not too many crocodile tears are being shed at his leaving.

    As a former manager for a Fortune 10 company I can tell you that Copper’s complaint is amateur at best and childish in the extreme. Seriously, I’ve seen way less stupid than this!

  4. Doc Bill has it correct. “Team Lead” was (probably) ceremonial. What it meant was that he had a small team of people for whom he was responsible. Whether or not he had actual supervisory responsibilities isn’t clear. Regardless, even if he did have supervisory responsibilities, his so-called “priviledges” would have been somewhere between negligible and zero. In government service, the connection between your pay and your job title are seriously disconnected. That means that your boss can remove you from your position for very little cause. You’re being a pain in the rear to your officemates? You’re not team chief / lead / supervisor / whatever anymore. You’re back to being a worker-bee. Doesn’t affect your pay. Whether it affects your chances for promotion depends on several factors. Was the supervisor who demoted you a real a__hole? If so, that might help you later on. I’ve seen people get removed from a position by such an a__hole, then they moved to a different office. They wound up doing quite well in the new office.
    That presumes that you’re worth having in your group. Doesn’t appear to be the case with Mr. Coppedge.

  5. According to the actual complaint document, Team Lead is described: no supervisory duties, no hiring ability, no evaluation responsibility. The Team Lead represents the team at meetings, gives presentations and is responsible for maintaining “team spirit.”

    Team Spirit? Can you imagine the “spirit” that Coppers elicited from his team?

    I lost count, how long are we going to have to wait for this Freshwater II Saga to play out?

  6. Can’t wait for the trial. I have a feeling that it will make Dover look like an ID slam dunk.

  7. The DI continuously promotes ID as a scientific “theory”. Yet the claim in this case for wrongful termination (pgs 37 & 38), states:

    “Plaintiff was terminated on the basis of his belief – and the perception of his belief – in religion. Specifically, Plaintiff was terminated because of the narrow-minded and intolerant behavior of Defendants. Defendants were demonstrably intolerant of Plaintiff‟s belief in God as the creator of the universe, his belief that gay marriage is immoral and violates Christian tenets and his belief that Christmas should be celebrated in recognition of its purpose as a federal holiday, rather than as a generic “holiday.””

    Here they do not even pretend that ID is science, but are stating that Coppedge’s promotion of ID was actually his demonstration of religious belief that god is the creator of the universe. The entire claim builds a case that Coppedge’s activities were purely religious in nature, including identifying the religious beliefs of others in the office, describing Coppedge’s personal convictions, and so on.

    Nowhere in the claim is there any mention of a Darwinist conspiracy to suppress ID.

    I think the Discoveroids will need to exercise a bit of spin control on this one, when they try and publicize it. This case is not really about ID at all, but is about a YEC evangelical christian inappropriately proselytizing coworkers in the workplace. It will be interesting to see how the DI continues to present it.

  8. Ed says:

    Here they do not even pretend that ID is science, but are stating that Coppedge’s promotion of ID was actually his demonstration of religious belief that god is the creator of the universe.

    Yes, it’s odd. Especially since Becker (Coppedge’s lawyer) is supposedly working closely with Casey. So the question is: what’s the game here? Well, there are laws against religious discrimination, so Coppedge probably has his strongest case on those grounds — to the extent that he has any case at all. That doesn’t help the Discoveroids in their claim that ID is a scientific theory, but maybe they can spin it as a necessary legal tactic that Coppedge had to use. They’ll say (as they always do) that ID isn’t religion, but those fools at JPL thought it was and they discriminated against Coppedge on that basis. I think they’re following that track.

    If Coppedge had claimed that they discriminated against him because they didn’t like his science, he’d be in a far worse position. I don’t know what kind of statutory protection he would have for that, if any. Besides, he wasn’t employed as a scientist, and no one at JPL gives a hoot about his thoughts on science. If he sues on the basis that he tried to promote his own brand of science and was demoted for it — so what? No one cares what the janitor thinks about the solar system, and no one cares what a tape monkey thinks about the theory of evolution. JPL can probably rip him to shreds if he tries to make this a case about science.

  9. techreseller

    Coppedge stated that he was afraid to say anything for fear of offending someone. I have some suggestions for him that will carry him thru the day at any job.

    Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening. How was your day? How was your weekend. Did you watch (fill in the blanks) play this weekend/last night? Great that they won or darn, they lost. What needs to be done? I will get right on that. Could you explain further exactly what you need done and when it has be finished?

    That set of phrases should get him thru about 10 years of work.